It was all hands to the pumps last weekend when the Birmingham Post & Mail’s headquarters were swamped by millions of gallons of water.
The deluge swept through the basements into the press hall last Friday evening after an eight-inch hydrant burst.
As water rose to within inches of an electrical substation, fire crews evacuated the building and turned off the power, narrowly avoiding what they said could have been a major disaster.
The nearby Birmingham Children’s Hospital, on the same part of the city’s electricity grid, was put on alert amid fears that the city centre could be blacked out.
Saturday’s Birmingham Post, Birmingham Evening Mail, Sports Argus and Sunday Mercury were all under threat, with predictions that the presses could be out of action until Sunday night.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for the Birmingham Post, whose first edition was about to go to press.
Post and Mail: emergency editions
Fortunately, a well-prepared disaster recovery plan was quickly put into action. Editor Fiona Alexander jumped into her car with a production team and headed for the Post & Mail’s sister paper, the Coventry Evening Telegraph, a half-hour drive away.
They salvaged some already completed pages and added a four-page wrap at Coventry, where an emergency 20-page edition was printed.
Meanwhile, Evening Mail editor Roger Borrell was making midnight phone calls to mobilise a team led by deputy editor (production) Ray Dunn to produce an emergency edition of the Mail early on Saturday morning, again using the Coventry press.
Needless to say, the splash headline was “Mail flood drama”.
By Saturday evening, clear-up teams, who had worked around the clock, managed to restore all power and production systems and the presses were fired up to print the Sunday Mercury.
The only flood victim was the Saturday night pink, the Sports Argus, which could not get a print slot at Coventry.
Post & Mail managing director Alistair Nee said: “A well-prepared disaster recovery plan supported by good people swung into action immediately, allowing us to print our papers.”
Regional operations director Colin Davies said: “You really had to see it to get the scale. We were looking at an area the size of two football pitches nine inches deep in water.”
By Andy Skinner